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Nation building in one step? Fuggedaboudit!

A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps to be expected by your nation, nor am I confident they are prepared to preserve it. More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation. Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one.
To Marquis de Lafayette, February 14, 1815

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders build democracy slowly and methodically.
Jefferson and the Frenchman Lafayette had been friends since Revolutionary War days, when the latter became an aide to General Washington. This letter was written when France had finally put its 25-year terror of revolution, Robespierre and Napoleon behind them. Jefferson’s subject in this excerpt was that revolutionary France of the late 1780s (when he was there as ambassador) wasn’t equipped to move directly from monarchy to democracy.

This sentiment is cautionary for “nation builders.” Is it realistic for a country to transition smoothly and in a single step from dictatorship to liberty? As much as Jefferson would like that, he concluded it was probably unrealistic. The citizenry not prepared for liberty would not be able to preserve it if granted.

What was necessary for that dictatorship-to-liberty transition?
1. Time. “More than a generation,” would be required.
2. “Reasonable laws” favoring the progressive education of the people would help them understand liberty and their role in maintaining it.
3. Citizens coming to expect safety for themselves and their property
4. These three will help people esteem the value of their freedom
5. That esteem will bring “the necessity of sacred adherence” to the principles that safeguard that freedom.
6. The result would be a liberty “which takes root and growth in the progress of reason,” i.e. a freedom nurtured over time by education, held upright and fed by roots that have grown deep.

Failing this slow and methodical process, a dictatorship overthrown left its people unprepared for freedom, making them susceptible to yet another tyranny.

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Is God the author of “American exceptionalism”?

Indeed, madam, I know nothing so charming as our own country. The learned say it is a new creation; and I believe them; not for their reasons, but because it is made on an improved plan. Europe is a first idea, a crude production, before the maker knew his trade, or had made up his mind as to what he wanted.
To Angelica Schuyler Church, February 17, 1788

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders are allowed (occasional) flights of fancy!
Mrs. Church was the daughter of an American Revolutionary War General and the wife of a wealthy Englishman who served as an American envoy to France in the 1780s. (Her sister married Alexander Hamilton.) She was one of several well-educated women who became friends with Jefferson during his stay in that country. Church and her family moved to Europe in 1783 and didn’t return to America permanently until 1797.

In this letter, Jefferson encouraged her to visit Monticello when they were both back home. He waxed poetic about the appeal of their native country. Was he completely earnest or tongue-in-cheek when he wrote this? Hard to tell. Maybe both. He had been away from home four years. He missed Mrs. Church’s company since their remove to England. Perhaps he thought it humorous to suggest that God was inexperienced or undecided when he made Europe before perfecting his skill and creating America.

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When is too early to make up your mind?

I thank you also for the extract of the letter you were so kind as to communicate to me on the antiquities found in the Western country. I wish that the persons who go thither would make very exact descriptions of what they see of that kind, without forming any theories. The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the tracts which favor that theory. But it is too early to form theories on those antiquities. We must wait with patience till more facts are collected.
To Charles Thomson, September 20, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The facts will speak for themselves, given enough time.
Thomson was a friend and fellow patriot. He served as Secretary to the Continental Congress for 15 years and was a principal designer of the seal of the United States, still in use today. He and Jefferson were members of the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization. The two men traded letters over matters of interest to the APS. In this letter, that interest dealt with “antiquities” (bones, fossils, artifacts) found in the American west.

By 1787, the middle Ohio River valley (roughly Kentucky and Ohio) was being settled but much of what lay further west was relatively unknown. Jefferson, like any good scientist, wanted to know more, but he wanted lots of evidence before drawing any conclusions. Prematurely-formed theories got in the way, tending to cloud an individual’s judgment. He saw only those facts which supported his theory.

Jefferson’s patient approach had wider application than explaining western antiquities. He often took a wait-and-see attitude. He was capable of bold action when required, but if he had the time, he much preferred gathering more information and seeing where it led, rather than being led somewhere by a preconceived notion.

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Can leaders have too much imagination?

He is a person of ingenuity and information. Unfortunately he has too much imagination. However, if he escapes safely, he will give us new, various, and useful information. I had a letter from him dated last March, when he was about to leave St. Petersburgh on his way to Kamschatka.
To Charles Thomson, September 20, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders must learn to apply the brakes … to themselves!
I thought we were done with John Ledyard in the previous two posts until I found this. Obviously, the explorer was a brave, knowledgeable and enterprising man. Those were valuable skills, and by them, Ledyard increased the body of knowledge available to others. Yet, he lacked skills Jefferson considered essential, patience and a coolness to consider a matter dispassionately. Self-control was a quality he regarded highly.

Jefferson saw a root of self-destruction in Ledyard’s enthusiasm when he wrote, “if he escapes safely.” Ledyard did escape this adventure but died in Africa just 16 months later. He never saw the American west, not even the interior of Africa.

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Around the world, ON foot or BY foot! Pt. 2 of 2

In 1786, while at Paris, I became acquainted with John Ledyard, of Connecticut, a man of genius, of some science, and of fearless courage and enterprise. He had accompanied Captain Cook in his voyage to the Pacific, had distinguished himself on several occasions by an unrivalled intrepidity, and published an account of that voyage …I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent, by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamschatka, and procuring a passage thence in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to the United States; … he pursued his course to within two hundred miles of Kamschatka, where he was overtaken by an arrest from the Empress, brought back to Poland, and there dismissed.
Autobiography, 1821 (From Foley’s Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Entry # 4559)

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Only death will stop some leaders!
Ledyard’s plan was to explore the American west by going east from France through Europe and Russia, across the sea to our west coast, and across the North American landmass to the Atlantic. Was this Ledyard’s idea or Jefferson’s? From the previous post, it appeared to be Ledyard’s. From this account 35 years later, Jefferson seemed to be the initiator. I suspect Ledyard already had the adventure in mind, and Jefferson only encouraged him.

This was Jefferson’s second effort to explore the American west, an idea he’d held since boyhood. The first effort in 1783 went nowhere. Ledyard was unsuccessful. Jefferson would fail a third time in 1793. (Another attempt, without his involvement, would fail in 1796.) It would be another decade before Lewis and Clark turned his dream into reality.

Ledyard was nothing if not determined! He made it to within 200 miles of Kamchatka, in the far eastern reaches of Russia, where he was arrested for trespassing. (From that coast, only a few miles of water separated him from what would become Alaska.) Under arrest, he was hauled all the way back west across Russia and released in eastern Europe.

What became of Ledyard?

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Around the world, ON foot or BY foot! Pt. 1 of 2

I had a letter from [world explorer] Lediard [Ledyard] lately dated at St. Petersburg. He had but two shirts, and yet more shirts than shillings. Still he was determined to obtain the palm [triumph] of being the first circum-ambulator of the earth. He sais that having no money they kick him from place to place and thus he expects to be kicked round the globe.
To John Banister, Jr., June 19, 1787

 Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A positive attitude goes a l-o-n-g way!
While researching the post that will come in two days, I found this letter on the same subject, written 34 years earlier. The intrepid Ledyard was in France and became acquainted with Ambassador Jefferson. His plan was to bring Jefferson a report on the American west by going east, across Europe, Russia, and then by ship southeast to America’s west coast, and then east on foot across the continent of North America to the Atlantic Ocean. He was not successful.
When Jefferson wrote this to fellow-explorer Banister, he relayed Ledyard’s most recent communication. Ledyard had a sense of humor! Since he had no money and couldn’t support himself, he would be kicked out of one place to another, and then to another. In that manner, he would complete his adventure all the way around the world.
In Ledyard’s March 19, 1787 letter, the one Jefferson refers to, the explorer described his sartorial scarcity: “I dined to day with Doctr. Pallas Professor of Natural history &c. &c.—an Accomplished Sweed: my friend: has been all thro European and asiatic Russia … But I dined in a shirt that I had worn four days. I have but two: and I suppose when I write you next I shall have none.”

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Clouds can be SUCH a nuisance!

We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse, which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburgh, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38 degrees-8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburgh about 1 degrees-45′ as is conjectured, eleven digits only were supposed to be covered, as it was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc. Afterwards it was seen at intervals through the whole.
To David Rittenhouse, July 19, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Astronomers (and others) love eclipses!
Have you heard that August 21, 2017, will bring a total solar eclipse across the United States? Where I live in central Missouri is in the band where the moon will completely block the sun for about 2.5 minutes. North Americans (and others) outside this band will see partial eclipses. That is, they will see them if it’s not cloudy. (It will be darkened regardless, but only observable if the sky is clear.)

June 24, 1778, brought a total eclipse across southern Virginia. Amateur astronomer Jefferson expressed his disappointment to professional astronomer Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. Clouds obscured most of the partial eclipse from Monticello and most of the total eclipse in Virginia’s capital of Williamsburg, some 120 miles to the southeast. (In 1803, Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis to Rittenhouse, for tutoring in astronomical observations prior to his 1804 journey west with William Clark.)

April 8, 2024 will bring the next total eclipse across North America, in a band from Texas through Vermont.

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What do laborers need on Labor Day?

…  with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities [happiness].
Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Laborers need a hands-off government.
Jefferson saw the election of 1800 as the second American revolution. The voters rejected an activist national government and the taxes necessary to support it. They also rejected a fondness toward England and any possibility of a constitutional monarchy.

Jefferson’s inaugural address outlined the major principles which would guide his administration. He tried to bridge the gap between the political parties with this, “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,”

Jefferson proposed a government which was wise, frugal, and intervened only to keep people from harming one another. Beyond that, government should let its citizens self-regulate for their own “industry and improvement.” Free to prosper in this way, government should not tax away what Americans labored to produce.

There were a number of taxes in 1801. Four years later, in his Second Inaugural Address, Jefferson would boast about the elimination of that burden when he asked “…what farmer, what mechanic, what laborer, ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?”

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In the face of great unpleasantness …

when we see ourselves in a situation which must be endured & gone through, it is best to make up our minds to it, meet it with firmness, & accomodate every thing to it in the best way practicable. this lessens the evil. while fretting & fuming only serves to increase our own torment. the errors and misfortunes of others should be a school for our own instruction.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, January 7, 1798

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders benefit from having this ability.
Mary Eppes was Jefferson’s younger daughter, married just three months earlier. In a letter full of advice on how to maintain marital harmony, he began with the distressing news of his sister, Mary, whose husband of nearly 40 years was in a state of “habitual intoxication.” She was very impatient with him. Not only might that impatience compel her husband to continue drinking, it made her even more miserable.

With that backdrop, Jefferson counseled his daughter to meet unpleasantness with firmness and a determination to make the best of the situation. “This lessens the evil” while worry and anger only “increase our own torment.” He advised her to learn from “the errors and misfortunes of others,” rather than be sucked into their consequences.

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A 210 year-old copy machine? Really?

I believe that when you left America the invention of the Polygraph had not yet reached Boston. it is for copying with one pen while you write with the other … I think it the finest invention of the present age … knowing that you are in the habit of writing much … I have accordingly had one made [for you] … as a Secretary which copies for us what we write without the power of revealing it, I find it a most precious possession to a man in public business.
To James Bowdoin, July 10, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders promote new inventions.
Jefferson owned a polygraph, “the finest invention of the present age,” a device for making copies of letters. (Here’s another image, which better illustrates how it  folded up for transport.) It consisted of two ink pens suspended over two sheets of paper. The pens were held together by a series of wooden arms and hinges. When one of the pens was lowered onto the paper to write, the second pen followed along and made an identical copy. There were polygraphs with three and four ink pens for making multiple copies, but they were more difficult to use.

He loved the polygraph for several reasons. He kept a copy of everything he wrote. It allowed him to make a copy without having a secretary duplicate one from his original. Thus, he could keep his correspondence private. The polygraph was portable, and he traveled regularly between Washington City and Monticello. Finally, he simply loved inventions and machines. (He tinkered with Hawkins’ design to make it work better!)

What a polygraph cost in 1806 is anyone’s guess, but for sure, it was not cheap. Jefferson loved his new device so much he had one made for Bowdoin, an American minister to Spain. One of the lesser factors in Jefferson’s ever-increasing debt was his tendency to shower gifts on his friends, whether he had the cash to pay for them or not.

While Jefferson was devoted to his polygraph, it was not a commercial success. It took too much adjustment to keep in proper working order. That was not a problem for a man who loved to tinker.

P.S. To prove his point, Jefferson added his own P.S. to this letter, telling Bowdoin he was reading the pages made from the copying pen, not from the pen he held in his hand.

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